The Pain of Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-07-04 21:41Z by Steven

The Pain of Passing

Reviews in American History
Volume 44, Number 2, June 2016
pages 264-269
DOI: 10.1353/rah.2016.0028

Renee Romano, Professor of History, Africana Studies, and Comparative American Studies
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

Allyson Hobbs. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014. 382 pp. Figures, notes, and index. $29.95.

In the past year, racial passing became the subject of intense media controversy and scrutiny when it was discovered that Rachel Dolezal, then-head of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington, was a white woman who had misrepresented herself as being partly black. In the wake of the media frenzy that followed, commentators took pains to point out that, even though it was unusual to see a white assuming an identity as black, passing itself was nothing new in U.S. history. “The history of people breaching social divides and fashioning identities for themselves is as old as America,” an editorial in the New York Times proclaimed in response to the controversy. But while the act of passing has long been a part of the American story, it has not, until now, been the subject of a sweeping chronological and narrative history. A Chosen Exile by historian Allyson Hobbs succeeds in the ambitious project of crafting a social and cultural history of the most famous version of the practice, that of people of black ancestry who passed as white. Racial passing, of course, was meant to be hidden and to leave no trace. But in A Chosen Exile, Hobbs demonstrates not only that sources exist to recover the history of blacks who assumed white identities, but also that historians have offered a rather onesided story of black-to-white passing that does not mine the experience fully for what it can tell us about the lived experience of racial identity in different eras in American history.

Drawing on creative research in sources—including runaway slave ads, diaries and letters, census and military data, student college records, and novels—A Chosen Exile offers a wide-ranging chronological history of the experience of blacks who passed as white from the late eighteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. In taking that approach to the subject, it stands out from most of the existing literature on passing. Scholarly work on passing, for the most part, falls into one of two camps: studies by literary and media scholars that explore literary and cultural representations of the practice, such as Gayle Wald’s Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (2000) or more historical works that take a biographical approach to reconstruct the lives and stories of specific individuals or families who passed as white. Gerald Horne’s The Color of Fascism: Lawrence Dennis, Racial Passing, and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism in the United States (2009), for example, sheds light on the strange life of Lawrence Dennis, a former child-preacher who chose to pass as white and who eventually became an outspoken supporter of fascism in the 1930s. Legal historian Daniel Sharfstein follows the lives of three families who changed from black to white from the colonial era to today in The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America (2012). But A Chosen Exile has a much broader scope. Although Hobbs offers lengthy discussions of some key historical figures, she seeks to bring together as many stories of passing as possible to “reveal larger social, cultural, and national dynamics that would be far less visible if viewed through a lens fixed on the idiosyncrasies of a single person, family, or place” (p. 25).

That approach enables Hobbs to develop arguments about how the meanings and practice of passing have changed over time—arguments that are simply not possible in works that are more narrowly focused. She shows, for example, that passing was a relatively egalitarian practice that both elites and the poor engaged in when circumstances allowed; although, as the book progresses, it is clear that Hobbs has found more evidence to reconstruct the stories of economically privileged blacks than she has for poorer ones. She includes the experiences of both men and women who crossed the color line, and she compares the experiences of those who passed strategically—or who temporarily claimed a white identity in order…

Tags: , , , , ,

Loving v. Virginia in Historical Context

Posted in Articles, History, Law, United States on 2014-07-29 00:34Z by Steven

Loving v. Virginia in Historical Context

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generatons
Brooklyn Historical Society
June 2014

Renee Romano, Associate Professor of History
Oberlin College

Renee Romano teaches history at Oberlin College and she is the author of Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America (Harvard University Press, 2003), and co-editor of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2006). Her new book, Racial Reckoning: Prosecuting America’s Civil Rights Murders (forthcoming from Harvard University Press in fall 2014) explores the contemporary prosecutions of civil rights era crimes.

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a groundbreaking decision in the aptly named case, Loving v. Virginia. Responding to a challenge to a Virginia law that barred interracial marriages, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws that made it illegal for whites and nonwhites to marry were unconstitutional.

There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection clause,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the unanimous decision.

With the stroke of a pen, the Supreme Court overturned centuries of common practice and its own legal precedent.

The colony of Virginia had enacted the first law punishing interracial marriage in 1691 in an attempt to prevent what it called the “abominable mixture and spurious issue” produced by unions between whites and nonwhites. Miscegenation laws proved vital for establishing racial boundaries and for constructing a racial hierarchy that placed whites above people of color. All but nine of the fifty states outlawed interracial marriage at some time in their history. These laws were not limited to the South—they existed at different historical moments in states ranging from Massachusetts to California, and they variously outlawed marriages between whites and those defined as black, Asian and American Indian. What they had in common was a shared intent in protecting the status of whites and communicating the subordinate position of nonwhite groups…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

That this has been a racially mixed country from the very beginning…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2012-03-17 21:24Z by Steven

…And I think with racial issues in the country, historical memory has really played to serve the ends of White Privilege, essentially. And it has done so in any number of ways. The most basic to start with, is simply we have as a nation erased essentially from any of our larger memory the racial complexity of the country. That this has been a racially mixed country from the very beginning. That every racial group has played a really interesting role in constructing and building the country. That there has been racial mixing between groups from the beginning. That race lines have been fluid. And that history of racial mixing, racial contributions just gets lost…

Renee C. Romano, “Multiraciality Is As Old As This Country: Gender, Sexuality & Race Mixing with Professor Renee Romano,” Is That Your Child?, (February 10, 2010): 00:11:30-00:12:21.

Tags: , ,

Multiraciality Is As Old As This Country: Gender, Sexuality & Race Mixing with Professor Renee Romano

Posted in Audio, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-03-12 15:32Z by Steven

Multiraciality Is As Old As This Country: Gender, Sexuality & Race Mixing with Professor Renee Romano

Blogtalk Radio
2012-02-10

Michelle McCrary, Host
Is That Your Child?

Renee Romano, Associate Professor of History
Oberlin College

Last Friday ITYC had an enlightening conversation with Professor Renee Romano from Oberlin College about the ways in which our country’s historical memory about race has served to advance the political interests of institutional whiteness. She noted the erasure of our country’s long history of “race mixing” in all of its complexity as one of the casualties of a national racial memory that seeks to minimize and obfuscate the contributions of people of color to the formation of the United States.

We also talked about how black/white interracial couples tackle issues of white privilege as well as her own personal story about how she negotiates issues of race in her own marriage.

Download the episode here (01:08:19).

Tags: , , , ,

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations: Mixed-Heritage Families in Brooklyn

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-06-18 11:27Z by Steven

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations: Mixed-Heritage Families in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Historical Society
Brooklyn, New York

April 2011

Project Description

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations (CBBG) is a public programming series and oral history project about mixed-heritage families, race, ethnicity, culture, and identity, infused with historical perspective. CBBG is currently in the planning phase (April 2011 – March 2012) and will result in a multi-faceted interpretive website expected to be completed in 2015.

By providing a public forum for conversations about mixed-heritage families, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations will inform the dialogue with historical perspectives on social constructions of race, ethnicity, and community; changes in immigration and citizenship laws and practices; and changes in marriage and partnership laws and practices. Through an interpretive website, online discussions initiated and led by scholars, public programs and events, Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) will invite the public to share their own stories, respond to other people’s stories, react to, and learn from scholarly interpretations of these stories…

Scholarly Advisors

Mary Marshall Clark, Director of the Oral History Research Office
Columbia University

Martha Hodes, Professor of History
New York University

Keren R. McGinity, History
University of Michigan

Suleiman Osman, Assistant Professor of American Studies
George Washington University

Renee Romano, History
Oberlin College

Michael J. Rosenfeld, Associate Professor of Sociology
Stanford University

Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor, Associate Professor of History
Kent State University

Karen Woods Weierman, Associate Professor of English (Literary History)
Worcestor State University

Project Staff

Sady Sullivan, Director of Oral History
Brooklyn Historical Society

For more information, click here. View the PDF brochure here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America

Posted in Books, Family/Parenting, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2009-10-29 03:15Z by Steven

Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America

Harvard University Press
April 2003
382 pages
11 halftones, 1 line drawing
ISBN 13: 978-0-674-01033-8
ISBN 10: 0-674-01033-7

Renee C. Romano, Professor of History, Comparative American Studies, and Africana Studies
Oberlin College

Marriage between blacks and whites is a longstanding and deeply ingrained taboo in American culture. On the eve of World War II, mixed-race marriage was illegal in most states, politicians argued for segregated facilities in order to prevent race mixing, and interracial couples risked public hostility, legal action, even violence. Yet, sixty years later, black-white marriage is no longer illegal or a divisive political issue, and the number of such couples and their mixed-race children has risen dramatically. Renee Romano explains how and why such marriages have gained acceptance, and what this tells us about race relations in contemporary America.

Although significant numbers of both blacks and whites still oppose interracial marriage, larger historical forces have greatly diminished overt racism and shaped a new consciousness about mixed-race families. The social revolutions of the 1950s and ’60s (with their emphasis on individualism and nonconformity), the legal sanctions of new civil rights laws, and a decline in the institutional stability of marriage have all contributed to the growing tolerance for interracial relationships. Telling the powerful stories of couples who married across the color line, Romano shows how cultural shifts are lived by individuals, and how they have enabled mixed couples to build supportive communities for themselves and their children.

However, Romano warns that the erosion of this taboo does not mean that racism no longer exists. The history of interracial marriage helps us understand the extent to which America has overcome its racist past, and how much further we must go to achieve meaningful racial equality.

Tags: , , ,